Apple’s new iPhone has a taller display, but it’s the same width as every other iPhone before it. So what gives? Why would Apple stretch one dimension, but not the other like the competition?
Apple kept the iPhone 5 display the same width because it’s easier to handle and type on it with a single hand. A wider iPhone would make this more difficult and likely require two hands to hold the phone and type. Or, as Phill Schiller said “it should be easy to use with this magical device we all have called a horizontally-opposed thumb.”
Android phone manufacturers have been growing both the height and width of their devices, which some users prefer for consuming content. But they’re sometimes difficult to use with a single hand. Just try sending a text message with one hand on one of these things without straining your thumb. Giant phones like the Galaxy Note II and the LG Intuition, with 5-inch and larger screens, are difficult to use with two hands at times, let alone with one.
By keeping the same width Apple also made it easier to reach every app icon on the phone. On the iPod Touch page, Apple illustrates the ease of reaching the taller screen with an image of the area a user’s right thumb can easily cover on the screen. The area extends to almost every icon on the screen, with only the top-left icon proving difficult to get to.
The width also gives the iPhone 5 a 16:9 aspect ratio which is better for watching movies and TV shows. Instead of seeing large black bars while watching widescreen video, the iPhone 5 will show most movies full screen. Most HDTV shows and movies are distributed in 16:9 or a similar widescreen ratio so they will show up full screen on the iPhone 5 as shown in the video below, about 3 minutes in.
Another issue with wider smartphone is they can be more difficult to fit into a pocket. For some users, fitting a recent high-end Android phone in a pocket is difficult because of they’re size. The iPhone 5 is just about as pocketable as the iPhone 4S, as it only adds 8.6 millimeters of height. Apple’s iPhone might still have some room to grow before the iPhone 5 is relegated to a bag instead of a pocket, but the size definitely looks more comfortable to put in a pocket than a Samsung Galaxy S III.